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I am a 29 year old with an Undergraduate degree from Berkeley in Biochem. I graduated in 2012 with every intention of applying to PhD programs after taking a year or two off to work.

Due to some health issues and the economic slump I was unemployed for awhile. Now I've been working in the Biotech industry for 2 years and with the support of my two bosses who are both science PhD's themselves I finally feel confident and ready to apply. By the time I intend to apply (this fall) I will have 3 years of Biotech Research experience. While I was an undergrad I worked as a research apprentice all 4 years so I also have a lot of experience in academic research.

My biggest question and concern is: will my time in industry hurt me? Could it be an asset? Can I succeed in getting into a good school as a less than conventional applicant?

  • I like to tell my friends that I am "the ripe old age of 29." No, you'd probably be just as fine in your mid-30s applying for a PhD assuming your grades, test scores, history, and interview are fine. – Compass Mar 16 '17 at 17:51
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    I successfully applied for a PhD program in Computer Science 31 years after completing my bachelor's degree, and 26 years after completing my master's. I did have good industry references, but so do you. – Patricia Shanahan Mar 17 '17 at 1:12
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I worked for 2-3 years after my undergraduate degree before applying to doctoral programs, and I think my work experience only helped. Like you, my job was relevant to the programs to which I ultimately applied. I was able to explain in my statement of purpose how my job experience strengthened my research skills and actually motivated my decision to apply to graduate school. As long as your application is strong (good letters, good GRE scores, etc), I can't see the gap between undergraduate and graduate school mattering that much.

That being said, one point you may want to address is how you kept your "academic muscles" toned over the last 5 years. Some people find the transition back to academic life difficult after extended periods away from it, and it may be useful to demonstrate somewhere in your application how you have kept in contact with the academic world, even if it was only indirectly.

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I was 27 and with 4 years in different research positions when I applied for PhDs in Operations Management (almost all in business schools). My experience is that some schools seem to be very focused on young students, fresh from undergrad or master's, while some other schools or departments prefer people with more experience. I had a very poor BSc/MSc GPA but having research experience (even of the first 2 years were in a totally unrelated field), papers, and good recommendation letters, I got admitted in a lot of very, very top schools.

I wish you good luck!

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I'm not familiar with the biochem field but I've heard if the experience is applicable it is preferable to candidates without experience. Even if it's just life experience, those qualifications are still useful. The checklist (maybe not in order of importance) is probably something like...

  1. How good are candidates at the tasks they will be required to perform. Measured by grades, quality of portfolio, procedural work related experience.
  2. How much growth and exposure will the candidate get the school. How ambitious, how enthusiastic, publications / exposure of portfolio, wealth, name, etc.
  3. How easy are they to work with. How punctual, your work ethic, communication skills, are you a jerk, etc.

If you're just hitting the last one that's still useful. But your experience seems like it's relevant so best case scenario you'd be filling out the first category as well. Obviously the rest depends on who else is applying and whatever other variables come with the school.

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Age 29 is still young. University can't and shouldn't judge you by how old you are, this is illegal in most countries.

They will look at:

  • Your PhD proposal
  • Your academics achievements
  • Your research potential
  • PhD interview (if any, requirements for some programs)
  • How your industry experience relates to your research
  • Recommendation letter from your academics and industry connections (if any)
  • How you are compared relative to other candidates

I'm a few years older than you but I'm still confident for my application.

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